A few weeks ago, my family visited New York and took a trip out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It is such an awe inspiring place and I wanted my girls to understand the importance of the immigrant in American society. I’m not sure exactly when they really start getting in to the meat of American history in school, but there is such value in going to places and seeing it yourself and, of course, reading about history in wonderful books.
April is also National Poetry Month. While we don’t read a ton of poetry, there are some amazing books and one of the books below focuses on the history of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem that helped pay for the pedestal of Lady Liberty.
Coming to America, by Betsy Maestro, is a great overview of how America has always been a nation of immigrants and is a hopeful look at an accepting nation. The book goes as far back as the Ice Ages when nomads crossed over a land bridge from Asia to Alaska. Topics touched on include immigrants coming due to religious persecution, unfair treatment of Native Amercians, and the slave trade. Maestro also covers the ways people got to America and how Ellis Island functioned from 1892-1954. Moving to a new country and starting over can be exceptionally challenging, but many have done it and will continue to try and achieve their own American dreams. “The spirit of American strength and independence is the spirit of its people – the spirit of its immigrants and their children.” Powerful words in a very well written book.
Another wonderful book focuses on the words of Emma Lazarus and her work with immigrants. In Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty, author Linda Glaser does an outstanding job not only giving us the history of the famous poem, but of its author and the times in which she lived. Young readers can learn that Emma Lazarus was a child from a well-to-do family and that everyone she knew had everything they wanted. As an adult, she visited Ward’s Island with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, where she met poor immigrants for the first time and saw how difficult their journeys had been and how exhausted they were. While others in New York at the time didn’t care about immigrants and feared them coming to America, Emma wrote about them and tried to plead their cause with others. When the Statue of Liberty was being built, many well-known American writers were asked to write something to help raise money to build the pedestal. Emma Lazarus took up her pen and wrote her now famous poem as if Lady Liberty was a real live woman seeing immigrants arriving in rags. This book does an outstanding job of giving the history of the famous poem and showing the real story behind it. It makes it that much more meaningful to hear.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!
I visited Ellis Island with students a few years ago, and I too thought it was a wonderful and inspiring experience. The stories and artifacts shared were wonderful. I am not familiar with that first book, so thanks for it, Michelle.
A few years ago, my parents visited Canada’s version of Ellis Island, which is Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where my mum and her family had arrived as immigrants over fifty years before! A powerful moment, and a significant location for our national history.
New York City is a place to visit on the bucket list. So much to do there, but Ellis Island would be a definite. Thanks for including the round up.